Introversion and Extroversion

My recent European adventure had — as an unusual part of its mixture — another human being. In the past, I’ve usually traveled alone. I love my friend dearly, like and appreciate her very much and am frequently grateful for the mysterious powers that brought us together, still, looking back on some of the interaction elements of our journey, I see some classic “introvert meets extrovert.”

Introversion (in spite of what the dictionary says) doesn’t mean shy, and, of course, we all have moods and one day might find even the most pronounced introvert looking for people to talk to. Introversion is not really about shyness or friendliness. I am definitely an introvert but I’m neither shy nor unfriendly. EXTROVERTS see us that way; it’s their way (historically) of explaining why we don’t like parties or small talk.

This definition pretty accurately describes me:

Given the choice, you’ll devote your social energy to a small group of people you care about most, preferring a glass of wine with a close friend to a party full of strangers. You think before you speak, have a more deliberate approach to risk, and enjoy solitude. You feel energized when focusing deeply on a subject or activity that really interests you. When you’re in overly stimulating environments (too loud, too crowded, etc.) you tend to feel overwhelmed. You seek out environments of peace, sanctuary, and beauty; you have an active inner life and are at your best when you tap into its riches.

My friend is an extrovert. And this describes her well:

Extroverts relish social life and are energized by interacting with friends and strangers alike. They’re typically assertive, go-getting, and able to seize the day. Extroverts are great at thinking on their feet; they’re relatively comfortable with conflict. Given the choice, extroverts usually prefer more stimulating environments that give them frequent opportunities to see and speak with others. When they’re in quiet environments, they’re prone to feeling bored and restless. They are actively engaged in the world around them and at their best when tapping into its energy.

Extroverts have a different relationship with the world than do introverts. They derive identity and stimulation from interaction with other people. Extroverts want to know what other people are doing and they want to do it, too. My extrovert friend admits to being easily bored. To contend with this trait, she maintains a busy social life that would both drive me crazy and leave me enervated. Like a good extrovert, much of her sense of self comes from interaction with others. Mine comes from what I do on my own — what I think, create, perceive.

Another distinguishing factor of the extrovert vs. the introvert is the approach to problem solving. In Europe, where I would read a map, listen to announcements or read timetables, my friend would ask someone. I found this bewildering because (as she had not been in these places before) she had little context for understanding the answers they gave her AND no way to know if their English was up to the task she was setting for them. But because I wasn’t ACTING in terms she understood (human interaction, direct, interpersonal communication) NOTHING was going to get solved. We bewildered each other often, I think, quite naturally as it’s an extrovert tendency to ACT and an introvert tendency to DELIBERATE when a problem needs to be solved.

Extroverts also seem to get uncomfortable when no one is (apparently) “in charge” and they do take charge. I’m not sure extroverts even have to think about asserting themselves. I imagine that many extroverts think introverts are dreamy, ungrounded, incompetent and various other adjectives because we tend NOT to assert our wills on the universe, but are more likely to observe what the universe is doing. This can make extroverts appear bossy and controlling to introverts, while, to the extrovert, the introvert probably might seem passive, lost and in need of guidance.

I should have remembered all this from teaching 900 million business majors, but I didn’t.

Here’s a short, clear discussion of the two types, and if you’re curious about yourself, here’s a pretty good little quiz. And here are wonderful illustrations showing how the two basic mentalities contrast.

Thanks to the Quiet Revolution for such clear explanations, and this item in their mission statement that is so true:

Be yin and yang. Introverts and extroverts love and need each other deeply. The world could not go on without both…

9 thoughts on “Introversion and Extroversion

  1. Great post. Learned a lot from it. You are quite right about me being an introvert. I can be assertive though if push comes to shove but, I avoid all that if possible. I’ve been know to “speak my mind” if needed. I can be very stern and even lecture someone if I think they need to be educated about their health and safety.

    • That’s like me — I can be very assertive for someone else’s welfare, but in Europe I had a very hard time telling my friend when something was bothering me. She’s a night person and we shared a big room. I slept in a cubby and she had the main room. We should have done it the other way, but. She didn’t think about having the light on when she stayed up until one night I finally said, “Turn off the damned light!” Push had to come to shove and it didn’t upset HER what I said, but to get to that point I had to be upset. I kept trying to deal with the assertive thing, but it really was difficult. I won’t travel with anyone again. I have a much better time on my own.

  2. I’m not sure what I am; Bartleby The Scrivener? I’d rather not. I’ve always added a third type into the mix.
    There are three types of people: There’s the people who make things happen, the people who watch things happen, and the people who wonder WTF just happened. 🙂

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